Here's a list of my personal Asian American favorites to zone out to in front of Mom and Dad's flat screen, and tune out your relatives.
If you've got Mommy issues:
Clean, 2004, Dir. Olivier Assayas
Maggie Cheung won the Best Actress award at Cannes (the first Asian actress to take the top prize) for her role as Emily Wang, a former drug addict trying to re-establish a relationship with her young son who's been raised by her in-laws. Get a good cathartic cry out and then relish Cheung and her mellifluous voice: she not only sings but speaks in fluent French, English, and Cantonese in the film. Co-starring Nick Nolte (looking like a big grizzly bear in a sweater as Emily's father-in-law), featuring music by Brian Eno, David Roback (Mazzy Star), Tricky, and an early cameo from Metric.
If you're convinced you're going to die alone:
Paper Heart, 2009, Dir. Nicholas Jasenovec
Charlyne Yi doesn't believe in love... until she meets Michael Cera, he of the vast array of different colored hoodies. She travels around talking with scientists, divorcees and couples to sort out her feelings toward l-u-v and even composes one hell of an indie ballad -- "Magic Perfume" -- which fittingly includes the line, "You smell just like Christmas to me." Plus, if you need dating advice, you'll get plenty from Yi's interviewees. Sample tip: "Take somebody to Applebee's and buy them hot wings." Are you taking notes?
If you're still hoping your artistic success will one day win your parents' approval:
Planet B-Boy, 2008, Dir. Benson Lee
Every B-boy has a story and Benson Lee's documentary lens follows around five crews prepping for the Battle of the Year in Braunschweig, Germany. We get to know the delegations from France, USA, Japan, and South Korea (who has two teams competing for the coveted title) and learn about their family lives and experiences that shaped who they are as dancers and as young men. The interviews touch on racism (the one white Frenchman's mom initially had issues with her son dancing with Africans and Arabs), class (the rural Korean underdogs vs. the middle class Seoul boys), colonization (Japan and South Korea still got some beef!), the Korean demilitarized zone, and that nagging feeling in your gut when you just want to make mama and papa proud. The dance footage is ridiculous (meant with the same connotation as "redonkulous" but without the embarrassment) and you can't help but feel warm, fuzzy, and suddenly ready to try a headspin in your living room.
If you're worried that you're screwing up your kids:
Children of Invention, 2009, Dir. Tze Chun
This story about two Chinese American siblings fending for themselves when their mother gets caught up in a Ponzi scheme is a veritable "What not to do when trying to financially support your family." Conversely, it could be a how-to guide on how to have your sibling's back. Big brother Raymond (Michael Chen) steps up to take care of little sis Tina (Crystal Chiu, so cute you want to steal her) with a low-key, but palpable protectiveness. Much different from my own childhood where my older brother thought I'd be the perfect test dummy for his WWF suplex moves. The fact that I can still walk today is a miracle in and of itself.
If you think your co-worker or significant other might possibly be a Cylon sleeper agent:
Haven't we all thought this at one point? If your pockets run deep, splurge on the box set of this sci-fi new classic. You can watch Grace Park get her multiple personality disorder on as Sharon/Boomer/Athena/Number Eight in its entirety, listen to the gravelly voice of Edward James Olmos, and feel a little hot under the collar as Tricia Helfer stomps around in that red dress.
If you've cried so much that you just need a laugh:
Now, you'll have to pre-order Ansari's comedy special (the DVD releases mid-January), but if his scene-stealing on NBC's Parks and Recreation and in Judd Apatow's Funny People (2009) is any indication, it'll be worth the wait.
More Go-To Gifts:
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Happy DVD-watching and holidays from Hyphen!